Concert Review: CHVRCHES @ The Anthem (11/30/21)

CHVRCHES (Photo Credit: Sebastian Mlynarski & Kevin J Thomson)

The best CHVRCHES concert ever? Yes.

As the glow of Thanksgiving meals and time with family and friends over the previous long weekend pleasantly faded, we found ourselves presented with epic synth-pop.

The Scottish band CHVRCHES finally returned to DC (last here for the 2019 All Things Go Festival) and The Anthem and thoroughly conquered everything and everyone with a heady blend of synth, mesmerizing visuals, and blaze after blaze of colors and lights.

To say that their return was glorious, would be as banal as saying blood is red. When concerts are this fun and full of such sensory overload, you know the world can be a special place, for an evening at least, and that’s one place we need to be.

They are touring for their powerful fourth album, Screen Violence (via EMI in the UK and Glassnote Records in the US).

They inaugurated their conquest with “He Said She Said”, one of the singles from the new album. They used the mammoth screen shadowing the stage most effectively and stunningly visually while they performed the great new songs from Screen Violence. (Hint = Screen) First, red and gray colors washed over the stage and crowd, while a giant electronic eye loomed inquisitively.

CHVRCHES formed in 2011 with Lauren Mayberry on vocals; Iain Cook on synthesizer, bass and more; and Martin Doherty on synthesizer, guitar, vocals and more. They also add Jonny Scott on drums while on tour.

Then they went with a couple classics, “Forever” and “Leave a Trace”, before getting back to the heart of the new songs. “California” may be my second favorite song from Screen Violence, this time Lauren broke out her dizzy spin dance, which she did often enough that there must have been consequences for her after the show. Maybe she had to take a break from spinning, because she exited the stage and returned with new attire, to which they went into the instant sensation “How Not to Drown” (a collaboration with Robert Smith). Here green was the sharp focus, where the on screen images shifted from haunting bubbles seeking upward release in an eerie lake to a green hand poised on a book for reading or other nefarious reasons. The chorus of “Drown” is especially remarkable, as it gave Lauren the chance to belt out with her clear, resonant voice, that called forth the masses to weep in adulation (presumably).

This was the fifth time I’ve seen CHVRCHES perform live, and it was easily the best one. And not because any of those previous shows (most recently 2019’s All Things Go) were lacking any fire or they skipped playing any of their hits, it is simply that the band had everything going perfectly at this 2021 The Anthem show. Maybe we were eager for what they had to offer, more so than usual after that last two years. Lauren joked at one point that she didn’t know what to expect after ‘staring at a wall for three years*, and now trying to pretend this [performing] was normal.’ But she was humbled by the number of people that came out, and if their show was not a last minute sell out, then it was very close, as the energetic concertgoers appeared packed to the rafters.

Next came “Violent Delights”, about dealing with the reality of terrible dreams. Green and red TVs swept across the background screen, while the lyrics hit hard, with ‘And these violent delights, keep bleeding into the light’ or ‘ The second night, I dreamt you drowned, you couldn’t fight, you were not found.’
This is my favorite song from Screen Violence (so far), not for the harsh lyrics, but for its apparent juxtaposition of an uplifting sound, that culminates again in another epic chorus for Lauren to bring chills down our collective spines.

They played seven songs from Screen Violence, from the 17 overall. As Lauren put it, ‘don’t worry, we’ll also play from our canon [of music]’, and they did, next giving us “Bury It’ (with Lauren singing the Hayley Williams part as well), and the titanic, Anthem shaking drop from “Miracle”.

The best screen images came during “Final Girl”, the last Screen Violence song in the main set, where strategic images of the red and blue trees of a (haunted) forest loomed large. 

They ended the main set with “Never Say Die”, which saw the return of the worrisome spin dance and rounds of full-throated audience participation. Lauren told the tale of her recent costume change. Now adorned in a white t-shirt and black shorts, she laughed that she almost didn’t get the shorts on because they had been machine-washed and they didn’t quite fit. But she managed, ‘only for the art’. As they walked off stage to a feverish applause, the four of them had conquered our senses and our imaginations, and gave us a new found purpose; to listen to more CHVRCHES music and attend more concerts. But first, they weren’t done.

Giving ample time for the encore break, they returned, only now Lauren’s arms and face were doused in red, with smears on her white t-shirt, representing blood. (Hint = Violence) They reached to the Screen Violence tracklist for the final time with “Asking For a Friend”, certainly an encore ready song.

They closed the show with “Recover” and ‘Clearest Blue”, where Iain and Martin hovered over their respective keyboards (probably channeling Tony Banks) as we basked in wave after wave of synth sounds, until ‘the drop’ (you all know it), hit us midway through and the delighted multitude jumped up and down until the song faded and reality rushed back in.

Thank you, CHVRCHES, for your conquest.

Setlist

  1. He Said She Said
  2. Forever
  3. Leave a Trace
  4. California
  5. How Not to Drown
  6. Violent Delights
  7. Science/Visions
  8. Good Girls
  9. Bury It
  10. Miracle
  11. Night Sky
  12. Final Girl
  13. Recover
  14. Never Say Die

Encore

  1. Asking For A Friend
  2. Mother We Share
  3. Clearest Blue

* Maybe she meant two years?

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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